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Career Dual-Language Educator Named Head of Federal ELL Office

A veteran bilingual and dual-language educator and former district superintendent has been tapped by the U.S. Department of Education to head up its Office of English Language Acquisition.

Libia Gil, who currently serves as a vice president for the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, in Chicago, has been named as an assistant deputy secretary and director of OELA. The OELA job has been filled on an interim basis for nearly a year since Rosalinda Barrera resigned last October.

Gil has a rich background in working with English-language learners and designing bilingual and dual-language programs. According to a profile of her that appeared in the January 1997 issue of School Administrator, Gil is the daughter of a Chinese mother and Costa Rican father.

She was a teacher in the Los Angeles district, and moved onto the nearby ABC school district to be a bilingual educator, and later, the coordinator of bilingual and English-as-a-second-language programs. She helped create Spanish, Korean, and Chinese magnet programs in that district, as well as a Portuguese dual-language program. She served in the Seattle school system as the head of bilingual education and assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Later, she became the superintendent of the Chula Vista elementary school district in San Diego County, right on the Mexican border.

Gil comes to the OELA position at a very interesting time. For months, the office has been without a permanent leader and there have been many questions and concerns raised among educators and advocates alike about the department's commitment to serving the unique needs of English-language learners. One piece of that has been a prolonged and bungled effort to award a new contract to operate the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition, or NCELA.

Gil's appointment comes on the heels of two recent requests from the Education Department that seeks public and expert input on how it might improve its research and technical assistance related to English-learners, as well as how it might better utilize NCELA as a source for information.

Still, Gil, who appears to have lots of experience as an outspoken advocate for ELLs and immigrant children, will have to deal with the challenges of running an office that has lost status within the Education Department in recent years. OELA's oversight and authority over funds from Title III were shifted to the Department's elementary and secondary education office in 2008 in the last year of the George W. Bush administration.

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